I read with interest the Loose Lips column of Aug. 27 describing the raw deal being handed the District of Columbia government’s John A.Wilson Building by the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is indeed a tragedy that this symbol of home rule and local self-determination will be occupied primarily by a federal agency. Yet the Wilson Building is not the only recent example of how the GSA and the EPA are screwing our city’s residents and communities.
Two years ago, when I was president of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly, the community organized a major protest movement in Southwest against our impending “base closure”—the abandonment of our neighborhood by the GSA and EPA. The federal government, during the Nixon-Agnew administration, essentially commandeered the Waterside Mall for the EPA’s new national headquarters—1 million square feet of federal office space instead of long-planned multifamily housing—when Southwest’s new town center was first built a quarter-century ago, just as the feds are now taking over the Wilson Building for federal office space. Yet today the GSA and EPA are abandoning the Waterside Mall, leaving behind 1 million square feet of vacant space and withdrawing 5,000 jobs from the heart of our neighborhood. Once the agencies took over the mall, everything was changed to accommodate their overwhelming presence—apartment buildings became office towers, retail facilities became office space, even the Metro station was reconfigured. Except for the Safeway supermarket, almost every other store and service in Waterside Mall mainly catered to the EPA workers, from fast food to dry cleaners. Many of these businesses are now facing bankruptcy or forced relocation, leaving the mall a potential ghost town and magnet for crime.
Two years ago, we mobilized more than 500 community residents, workers, and business owners, raised more than $175,000, and, with the support of D. C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, recruited the Urban Land Institute to do a major study of how to save the Waterside Mall and revive the Southwest waterfront. Since then, neither the GSA nor the EPA has done anything to remedy the situation. I propose a perfect win-win solution for everyone in the District: The EPA should give the Wilson Building back to the District government and keep all of those EPA employees who are scheduled to move into the Wilson Building at their current offices in the Waterside Mall. We Southwest residents will be glad to keep them as our daytime neighbors, and since we know the space would otherwise be vacant, they won’t be displacing anyone, as they would be doing at the Wilson Building. Let’s ask our city’s leadership—the mayor and council—to request that the Clinton-Gore administration and Congress make this very positive goodwill gesture as soon as possible.